The Truth about Video Games—You Might be Surprised

The Truth about Video Games—You Might be Surprised

No doubt, the video game industry gets somewhat of a bum rap from media and parents alike. There is a collective fear about the unknown long term effects of video game usage on young minds. Throw in the violence that is found in many popular video games, a people get   downright squeamish. No doubt an

No doubt, the video game industry gets somewhat of a bum rap from media and parents alike. There is a collective fear about the unknown long term effects of video game usage on young minds. Throw in the violence that is found in many popular video games, a people get   downright squeamish. No doubt an important topic in this generation, let’s look at some statistics and studies that address this multimillion dollar industry.

The American gamer population today is 56% male and 44% female, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) study conducted in 2015. In 2014, approximately 183 million people played video games of some form in the U.S. alone. The PC game League of Legends was featured in Forbes in 2012, when it peaked the charts as the most popular game on the planet; over 1.2 million people in the U.S. play it on a daily basis.

It’s safe to say that gaming is here to stay and is a major part of the modern day culture. Yet to this day, gaming remains a hot topic in both mainstream media and for concerned parents. While the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) reports that approximately 85% of parents are aware of the ratings system implemented for video games, there is still a wide disparity in what games actually reach the hands of children too young to play them. A common question from parents continues to be: what is an appropriate game for my children?

In 2013, a Youtube video began making the rounds online of an 11­year old boy from France weeping of joy as his parents surprised him with a copy of the highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto 5. Rational voices dissented; the game (rated M for mature) was obviously meant for people far older than the boy, and the parents should have taken closer care of what they had bought for their child.

In fact, a UK­based study from playr2.com in 2012 revealed that two thirds of parents don’t even bother checking the ratings on the box. Combined with the media image that video games cause violence and aggravated behavior in developing minds, it’s no wonder gaming continues being demonized by news outlets.

But the statistics aren’t there. Between the years 1995­2008 video games sales quadrupled, creating an 11.7 billion dollar industry in the U.S., yet the arrest rate for juvenile murder during that same time period fell 71.9 percent and the arrest rate for all juvenile violent crimes declined 49.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics published by the ESA.

The image that video games are for the most part violent is also untrue. In the 2014 Entertainment and Software Association study, 46% of games rated by the ESRB that were released in 2013 received an E for Everyone rating, making them suitable for   children.

Nineteen percent of games received an E10 rating, making them suitable for children above the age of 10, and 23% of games received a T for Teen rating, making them suitable for

children above the age of thirteen. The M for Mature rating, limiting the content for adults over the age of 18, was reserved for only 12% of the games released that year.

Out of the games released in these rating brackets, one of the largest functions remains unrated still: online interactions. In the highly connected society in which we live, more and more young people are online and playing in communities together. According to Constance Steinkuehler Squire, associate professor in digital media and co­director of the Games+Learning+Society Center at the University of Wisconsin­Madison, these communities can lead to a challenging, creative environment that is actually healthy for children.

“You create these communities around the game that do an incredible amount of intellectual work, and when they’re done with the work, they will leave the game and go on to another game that’s more challenging. Can you imagine if we had that kind of environment in classrooms?” she says.

The 2014 ESA study also finds that 56% of parents believe that video games are a positive part of their child’s life, while 47% of parents say that they enjoy playing video games as much as their child does. If anything, the studies are showing that the right kind of games can not only create a positive influence in the lives of children, but bring families together where gaming can become part of a nurturing experience.

“Games provide a wonderful platform for intergenerational play and learning. Kids often take the lead in showing their moms what they know how to do in the game—they are the experts! This gives both moms and their children a chance to interact and learn together, which we know from a developmental perspective has great benefits,” says Katie Salen, executive director of Institute of Play.

So what games should families play together? While the best selling games of 2013 still consisted of action heavy titles for mature audiences such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, more family friendly games such as Minecraft and Disney Infinity have stayed as top selling heavy hitters for years now. The Lego franchise, with their hugely popular takes on pop­culture icons such as The Avengers and the Lord of the Rings films, have also become yearly hits.

Minecraft, in particular, has been lauded by critics and gamers worldwide as a modern day lego set in the digital world. Giving players near unlimited control in a block based world to build, craft, and shape the world around them, Minecraft is a game solely driven by creativity and the ability to make new things either alone or with friends.

One of the brands that parents who want to be a part of their children’s gaming should look into is still Nintendo, who have been the forerunner of bringing consoles into homes since the 80’s. Their iconic mascot Mario remains a strong part of their gaming foundation to this day. Parents with younger children can easily find suitable games for the whole family in the wide Nintendo backlog, either for the Wii or Wii U consoles, and even families with older children

can find great experiences in games like Mario Kart or the Legend of Zelda series. A search on the ESRB website for games rated Everyone to Teen turned out 4917 games for Nintendo consoles alone.

For parents wanting even more information, the ESRB website and game store employees are a valuable source on a day to day basis. While gaming today is a part of everyday life and culture, it still remains the responsibility of parents and gamers themselves to find out what they’re playing.

Jesse Itkonen

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